Saturday, April 2, 2016

An Open Letter to Glenn Beck

Dear Mr. Beck:

You and I couldn’t be further apart politically, but I’ve always respected you as a historian.  I’ve always enjoyed your tales of the obscure and remarkable corners of history, and what they imply for the modern age.  Therefore I was delighted to pick up your book, “Dreamers and Deceivers”, especially when I learned that it had a chapter – “The Muckraker” – about the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, which I know some odd things about.

First, my bona fides.  Back in the late 1970s, when I was an idealistic youngster – having supported the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Feminist movement – I grew interested in the Radical Labor movement, moved to Chicago and joined the Industrial Workers of the World.  Yes, the Wobblies: they’re still alive, and growing today.  I became well acquainted with some of the great Old Timers:  Fred Thompson, the great Wobbly historian;  Ottalie Markholt, the investigative bookkeeper and organizer;  and the ancient Joe Vlad – who was there.  More about Joe later.  I also had access to the Wobbly headquarters’ library, which contained some surprising books.  I still have my old Wobbly membership number, X306686.  I worked for several years as an editor and cartoonist of the Wobbly newspaper, The Industrial Worker, and as a musician and songwriter for the union band, “The Dehorn Crew”.  Eventually I took an offer to move to California and work full-time as a writer and musician, but I always maintained my contacts with the old union.  That’s the main source of my information.

But anyway, on to your story.  Upon reading it, I was disappointed to see that you’d gotten your information from the usual sources, including the Socialist ones, with nothing from the Anarchist side of the story – and remember, Sacco and Vanzetti were Anarchists, not Socialists.  The divide between the two ideologies had already started with the Russian revolution.  It grew wider with the Kronstadt Revolt (which a lot of the Wobblies witnessed), wider still with Trotsky’s betrayal of Nestor Makhno, and eventually became an impassable gulf when the Communists betrayed the Republican alliance in the Spanish Civil War.  I find it hard to understand why political researchers still assume that the Socialists and Anarchists are always allied.  You really should have talked to the Wobblies.

Here’s what they could have told you.  In 1920 on the east coast, including Boston, the Italian wing of the labor movement was primarily Anarchist, and of an explosive temperament.  The only radicals more fiercely active were (and are) the Spanish;  in Spain they had bomb-throwing Liberals, if you please!  Now the Anarchists were divided on the subject of money;  there were those who claimed that the majority of money had been stolen from the working class and – since money was needed to further the revolution – it was only just to steal it back.  Then there were those who claimed that money itself should be abolished and replaced with a system of labor/barter chits, or IOUs.  Sacco and Vanzetti – and the Wobblies – fell into the second camp (largely because they had connections with farming co-ops out in the countryside that could barter food).  Still, there definitely were Italian Anarchists who were willing to commit armed robberies and throw bombs – though not that many of them.  A couple of them definitely could have committed the robbery at the Slater-Morrill shoe factory.  Then again, a gang of completely non-political robbers could have done the deed, leaving the Italian Anarchists to take the blame.  To this day, nobody knows who really did it.

Now, one thing the Anarchists were (understandably) short on was competent lawyers.  When the police decided that Sacco and Vanzetti, because of their prominence in the Boston Italian Anarchist movement, simply had to be the perpetrators, where were the defendants to get a lawyer?

Enter Frederick Moore, Socialist – and from a wealthy enough family to have gotten him through law school.  He had also worked for the railroad companies, before making enough money and contacts to establish his own office in Los Angeles.  There were also those who said he left the railroad’s employ because he was “quarrelsome” and “opinionated” and “wouldn’t get along with anybody”.  Not all of this could be blamed on his taste for cocaine.  In any case, sometime during his years in Los Angeles he became a Socialist – but of a peculiar sort. 

He was the sort of rich Socialist/Communist whom the Wobblies came to call a “Parlor Pink”.  That is, someone wealthy enough that s/he’ll never have to join with others to contest with a boss over wages – in fact, will never have to worry about income in their whole life – and who joins a radical political movement for purely psychological reasons.  Now there have been rich radical sympathizers who have done a lot of good – primarily because they were willing to listen to the people directly involved in the problems and conflicts, and don’t assume that their superior education automatically gives them superior minds and a superior right to steer the “peasants” in the right direction.  Then there’s the other sort, best typified today by characters like Bill Ayers, who assume that a revolution is coming and they should be the kingmakers, if not the kings, thereof.  Fred Moore was that sort.

He gained his contacts with the Radical Labor movement when an acquaintance of his, who happened to be a Wobbly, was arrested for making a pro-union speech (which was illegal then) in San Diego.  Moore, upon learning that there were hardly any lawyers willing to defend union organizers, saw an opportunity.  He didn’t manage to get his friend off on the charge, but got him a sentence much reduced from what the police wanted.  The word spread, via the Wobblies, and Moore became the lawyer for labor organizers to hire.  He didn’t make much money at it, because his clients were usually dirt-poor and their struggling unions couldn’t raise much from their entire memberships, but oh, did he become famous.  His clients, often recent immigrants who understood little or nothing about American law, would always follow his advice – which gave him a considerable sense of power.  He successfully defended Giovanitti and Ettor, scapegoats of the Lawrence strike, and Charles Krieger in the Tulsa Standard Oil frame-up, after which his fame went nation-wide.

It was at this stage that Moore learned about the Sacco/Vanzetti case, and agreed to defend the men.  It should have been a slam-dunk defense;  neither man had a criminal record, both had good alibis, and the witnesses to the shooting and robbery only got a brief look at the robbers from a second-floor window (at a time when no man with any self-respect went outdoors without a hat, usually a broad-brimmed fedora), and neither of them knew the defendants on sight.  Even the main witness, who had obviously been carefully coached by the police, admitted when asked about Sacco: “I wouldn’t say it was him, but he’s a dead image of him.”  Any good lawyer should have torn those witnesses’ statements to shreds in short order – say, with a lineup of other Italian men resembling Sacco – not to mention clearing Vanzetti easily.  There were witnesses who saw Vanzetti in Plymouth, selling fish, at the time of the robbery, and others who saw Sacco getting a professional photo taken of himself and his wife in Boston at the time.  The only retort the prosecution had was that all the witnesses were Italians, and therefore couldn’t be trusted.

Ah, but there was a witness to Sacco’s whereabouts that day who wasn’t Italian.  Remember Joe Vlad?  Joe was quite young when he came to America from Hungary in 1901, and he joined the Wobblies soon after they were founded in 1905.  He was living in Boston at the time, and often hung around at the Italian Social Club, which was a Wobbly/Anarchist watering-hole, because he liked the discussions and also preferred wine to beer.  He recalled clearly that he saw, and talked to, Nicola Sacco on that day in the Italian Social Club in Boston, and that Sacco had left to go get his photo taken with his wife less than ten minutes before the robbery took place – clean across the city, in Braintree.  No way in hell could Sacco have gotten to the robbery in time.

So Joe Vlad asked around, and looked up the address of the hotel where Moore was staying, and went to the courthouse, and tried everything he could think of to tell Moore his story and offer himself as a witness.  Well, Moore refused to see him, left orders not to admit him at the office, and used various schemes to keep him out of the courthouse – even unto getting Joe arrested, but then getting the charges dropped before Joe got to court so that there was no chance that Joe could hang out in the courthouse and run into anyone who would listen to him.  So Joe never got his chance to give his evidence to the jury.  Fifty years later, he was still telling the story.

So, why didn’t Moore want Joe Vlad’s testimony?  Why didn’t he use a simple lineup to show that the witnesses could easily have been mistaken?  Why didn’t he lean on the witnesses to reveal how the police had leaned on them?  Why did he sabotage his own case?

It was because he was a Parlor Pink, and he had an Agenda. 

As a Socialist, Moore had no love for Anarchists.  He saw them, as Stalin saw intellectuals, as “useful idiots”.  Likewise, he had no respect for Italian “peasants” who could barely speak English.  What he did want was to use them to expose class warfare, class prejudice, and the corruption of the legal system – particularly in Boston.  For that purpose he sent his assistant to Italy, supposedly to collect character witnesses, but really to publish inflammatory articles in the Italian radical papers.  For that purpose he alienated the judge, who was known to have sizable anti-Anarchist sympathies, instead of using legal methods to get the judge replaced.  For that purpose he needed “martyrs”, and a couple of Italian Anarchists fit the bill perfectly.  He never intended to get Sacco and Vanzetti acquitted;  he intended to use them as pawns in a political circus, which required keeping the trial going as long as possible.  It was a carefully orchestrated passion-play, and had to end in the martyrdom of his hapless pawns. 

How did telling Sinclair that his clients were guilty further his cause?  Most likely because that would keep Sinclair from investigating any further, possibly questioning witnesses to Sacco’s and Vanzetti’s alibis – and possibly running into the insistent Joe Vlad.

Joe Vlad died in 1982, at the age of 96, still sharp as a tack, still telling his tale of meeting Nicola Sacco at the Italian Social Club on that particular day in 1920. 

By then, the gap between the Socialists/Communists and the Anarchists was as wide as the ocean, thanks to betrayal after betrayal, and the Libertarian movement had started up, changing the traditional definitions of political left and right beyond repair.  The labor movement has risen and fallen, and is beginning to rise again with new allies.  And the Wobblies are still here, and growing. 

Still, Fred Moore does deserve to be remembered, along with his various imitators, as a fine example of why you cannot trust a Parlor Pink.  The False Flag tactic is alive and well, and needs to be watched for.


--Leslie <;)))><  Fish 
IWW #X306686      


Aya Katz said...

Thanks for this historical glimpse at what really happened, Leslie! I will be sharing this on the Historia Obscura FB page.

Technomad said...

I don't know, Leslie. I'm a true-crime buff from way back, and I've read a fair amount about that case. They did new ballistics tests on Sacco's gun in 1961, and the results matched the bullets they took out of that dead guard (who was a working stiff himself. People tend to forget that, the way that they forget that Jesse James never killed a rich man, but did kill a good few people in his lifetime.)

The case against Vanzetti was always weaker, but he wouldn't abandon Sacco. Sacco may have been innocent, but take it from one who knows: If you get caught with a pistol on your person that matches the one used recently to kill someone, you got some serious 'splainin' to do.

I will stipulate that the original trial was probably not very fairly run, although that defense lawyer, from the accounts I've read, was the sort of person who would get up any contemporary judge's nose. Had I been in Judge Thayer's boots, once the fuss over them started up, I would have allowed a new trial (Massachussetts law made this decision the prerogative of the previous judge) but some people's ill-thought-out personal attacks on him got his back right straight up.

And I know of at least one guy who was writing a book about the case who started out believing that they were innocent, but after going through the evidence and contemporary records, decided that they were guilty.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, Nomad. The problem with the gun is that the radical community passed guns around with remarkable fluidity, especially if they'd just been used. I recently wound up with a gun that just *had* to be gotten out of somebody's house in a hurry, and I duly passed it on to somebody else. The gun that killed the guard may have wound up in Sacco's possession, but that doesn't necessarily mean he had it at the time of the robbery. It does, however, imply that somebody (or several somebodies: witnesses saw several men in the getaway car) in "the community" did the shooting, rather than just some random bunch of crooks.

Of course, if it were some people in the local radical community, why didn't they send anonymous letters to the papers, and the police, saying that they'd done it and giving enough withheld details about the crime to be convincing without giving away the writers' identity? Their silence wasn't very loyal to their class, ethnicity or political community.

Then again, how do we know that the real robbers *didn't* send such a letter, and that it wasn't covered up as thoroughly as Joe Vlad's testimony?

And then there were all the witnesses who saw both the men elsewhere at the time of the robbery. They weren't all Italians, and they weren't all lying.

Nah, Moore was good at creating political theater, but he really didn't do right by his clients.